"He is not so easy to describe. There is something wrong with his appearance; something displeasing, something down-right detestable. I never saw a man I so disliked, and yet I scarce know why. He must be deformed somewhere; he gives a strong feeling of deformity, although I couldn’t specify the point. He’s an extraordinary looking man, and yet I really can name nothing out of the way.”
Author: Robert Louis Stevenson
Publisher: Longmans, Green & Co.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is definitely my favourite science fiction so far (because I’ve read SO many already :p). It’s pretty similar to Frankenstein, actually, which was obviously superb, but there are a few key reasons why I enjoyed Jekyll and Hyde better. First, here’s a quick rundown of the plot.
Plot and Narration
The story is narrated by a lawyer named Gabriel John Utterson. One of Utterson’s clients, Dr. Henry Jekyll, gives Utterson his will and it just totally baffles him. The will basically bequeaths Jekyll’s estate to a man named Edward Hyde should Jekyll ever die or go missing for months on end. At the same time, Utterson comes to hear about the wrongdoings of Hyde around town and gets a bad feeling about him when he meets Hyde in person. In fact, everyone who meets Hyde gets the heeby-jeebys around him (see above quotation). They all feel that there’s something wrong, or sinister about him, but they can’t quite put their finger on why.
As the story goes on, Hyde becomes more and more notorious for his evil ways around town, and Jekyll’s associates and household start to fear his association with Hyde. Utterson himself is convinced that Hyde is in some way blackmailing Jekyll, but every time he approaches Jekyll about it, Jekyll only tells him not to worry! Long story short, as we all know, it turns out that Jekyll and Hyde are one and the same person. With some crazy experiments and potions, Jekyll attempted to separate his good side from his evil side. But just like in Frankenstein and Journey to the Center of the Earth, the reader only comes to know the truth after the events have already transpired. That is, Utterson is around while it’s all taking place, but only learns the truth after Jekyll (and Hyde) have died.
The Mad Scientist Narrative Arc
In terms of narrative style, I’m sensing a pattern here. Both Frankenstein and Journey were narrated in an after-the-fact structure, and in this story too the truth only comes out after the fact. Also, the two stories share almost the same plot structure!
- Mad scientist thinks of crazy goal.
- Mad scientist accomplishes said crazy goal.
- Mad scientist becomes horrified at his own accomplishment.
- Mad scientist tries to rectify the problem.
- Mad scientist dies.
The only thing that Journey is missing from these plot points is that its mad scientist (Prof. Liedenbrock) doesn’t die at the end. But then again, he doesn’t actually accomplish his goal in that one.
Even by reading just these few stories, I finally have a better understanding of what character-driven tales look like. And that’s one of the main differences between “classic” literature and modern stories: nowadays the protagonist is thrown into a situation he or she has to deal with, but back then, the problems were a direct result of the protagonist’s actions.
Theme: Brilliant Descriptions
Anyways, let’s get to why I enjoyed Jekyll and Hyde more than the other two stories so far.
It really comes down to descriptions. I am absolutely CRAZY about the descriptions of Mr. Hyde. Robert Louis Stevenson, hats off to you, sir! Like the quotation above, they all try to describe him physically but nobody can really pinpoint why they get a bad feeling about him, or what exactly is off with him, they just know that this Hyde character means bad news. Jekyll actually provides his own theory for this in his confession.
“I have observed that when I wore the semblance of Edward Hyde, none could come near to me at first without a visible misgiving of the flesh. This, as I take it, was because all human beings, as we meet them, are commingled out of good and evil: and Edward Hyde, alone in the ranks of mankind, was pure evil.”
Theme: Good and Evil
I just love the idea here that we can recognize pure evil in someone else. To me, this means that though there is good and bad inside everyone, we can recognize evil not just because there is bad in us, but also because there is good in us. (Hope that made sense!) And that’s the reason everyone felt eerie in Hyde’s presence; there were simply no redeeming qualities in him. Of course, this can be interpreted the opposite way, too; that we are all by nature evil and that’s why the characters could perceive that in Hyde. But it wouldn’t be anything if there wasn’t also goodness.
Frankenstein and Jekyll and Hyde also bring up the timelessly interesting ideas of messing with nature. In both, the protagonist becomes obsessed with his goal to mess with nature and it ends up destroying him. (I’m sure scientists in underground labs somewhere could learn from this.) The dead are not meant to come back to life, and humans are both good and bad, these concepts and truths provide balance to the world, and we all know Mother Nature is very good at keeping balance.
Up next, The Time Machine. I’m really excited for this one!
Quotations: Stevenson, Robert Louis. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Amazon Digital Services. Kindle Edition.